Every year at Thanksgiving I think about someone I turned away. Although it was in my selfish and thoughtless youth, so perhaps forgivable - we often can't see the need in others until we have experienced it ourselves - I still feel terrible about how I treated someone who asked for my help and company.
A year or so out of college, I was dating a guy whose name I can't remember, so let's call him Jim. Dating might be too strong a word. We shared a few afternoons and evenings, and a few nights and mornings, but it never emotionally progressed too far. But on Thanksgiving day, as I was preparing to go to my family's house about twenty miles away, Jim called. He asked what my plans were for the day.
I told him I was going to my family's house, and he asked if he could come. This sort of threw me, because we didn't really have that sort of relationship, and it seemed to be the kind of thing a "boyfriend" would ask, and farther in advance as well.
For whatever reason lost in the fog of my memory, I turned him down. Perhaps I was embarrassed to be dragging a guy that was really just a casual lover to my parents' house. Jim was a nice guy, but not all that bright, and my family tended towards the high level conversation. Maybe I was afraid he'd feel dumb, although I doubt my analysis of the situation went that far. Maybe I just didn't want to spend the day with him, just wanted to be with my family. I can't really remember why I said no.
I made some excuse about not knowing whether my family was prepared to host another person, how I hadn't told them I was bringing someone, so it might not be polite to them. But the truth was I just didn't want to take him with me.
Now, looking back, at a time when I sniff around for a place to spend Thanksgiving, I feel terrible that I didn't invite Jim to go with me. When I told my father that Jim had asked to come, he said, "Of course he would be welcome." My father had probably spent a few Thanksgivings away from loved ones, and was far more sensitive to human need than I was at that time.
Without a family of my own - my friends here in Madison are what I consider family, and my brothers are in other cities - I usually spend Thanksgiving with friends who also don't have relatives in the area. It's actually great, because we cook for each other, don't have the tensions that so many family gatherings do, and we don't have to travel farther than a few miles. An "Orphan's Thanksgiving" is just an excuse for a big party. I actually pity people flying or driving long distances, and I always hear tales of the family dynamics that emerge at the holidays.
But to this day, I think back to the fact that I didn't take Jim home to spend Thanksgiving among a warm group of people. He must have really needed a place to go, and I turned him away.
I'm so sorry.